April 20, 2018

Kara Miller meets with Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services patient Louisa Solano to talk about what’s on her iPod. (Photo Credit: Nathan Lamb/Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services)

ABBA, Patsy Cline, and Frank Sinatra are filling the earbuds of elderly people all over America. Why? Eldercare services and nonprofit organizations are increasingly using music as a therapeutic tool to stir up memories and soothe anxiety. Innovation Hub takes a look at the science behind these programs, as well as the lives that they’re changing. 

Three Takeaways

  • Temple University music therapy professor Wendy Magee says that singing and music-related trivia can be enough to spark a person’s memory. She has worked with “people who, if you said to them, ‘What’s your name?’ they weren’t able to actually able to respond with their name. But if you started singing to them, they could complete the last word of a song.”
  • Music & Memory is a nonprofit that uses music to help seniors connect with their past - and improve their mood. Founder Dan Cohen says music engages our brain more than any other part of our senses, including sight and smell. “When someone is listening to their favorite music, the brain is lighting up lights up in many parts... And it is taking advantage of the parts of the brain that are still very functional,” Cohen says.
  • Innovation Hub talked with Elsie Stern, a patient who uses Music & Memory at Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services. She says that music from groups like ABBA not only remind her of younger days when she would go out dancing, but it also helps ease her anxiety. 

More Reading 

Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services client Elsie Stern (second from the left) meets with Kara Miller. Stern says listening to ABBA has helped ease her anxiety. (Photo Credit: Nathan Lamb/Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services)

Staff Playlist

Alec Greaney 

“Mr. Jones” by The Counting Crows - This is my favorite song on the first album I owned, Films About Ghosts. I think I speak for my whole family in saying the shared taste made our living room a peaceful place.

“Beta Love” by Ra Ra Riot - This is one of those songs that I can put on repeat and still not get sick of it. More importantly, it helped me survive grueling, paper-writing hours in a corner library carrel.

Matt Purdy 

“Two-Headed Boy,” by Neutral Milk Hotel - The research says our musical tastes freeze somewhere in our late teens and early 20s. This is one of the songs I loved most during that time. 

“I’ll Fly Away” by Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss - I have a soft spot for country folk songs. I have no doubt I’ll be playing this song many years from now on whatever futuristic headphones I’m using at the time.

Kara Miller

“Tapestry” by Carole King - My mom had this record, and we listened to it a lot. I remember the album cover so well, which has Carole King in bare feet, with a sweater she made – and her cat.

“Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers - I feel like everyone played this when I was in high school. When I hear it, I think of being in 9th grade. 

Marc Sollinger 

“Jesus Etc.,” by WILCO - My dad did not understand or enjoy Wilco at all, but he still took me to a Wilco concert, so every time I hear Jesus Etc., I think of him. 

“The Boxer,” by Simon and Garfunkel -  I feel like I heard Simon and Garfunkel’s Concert in Central Park album on a constant loop between the ages of four and seven. There are worse albums to hear on a constant loop. 

Marc Filippino 

“The Underdog,” by Spoon - This song came out my freshman year of college and I came across it my junior year, right before I went to study abroad. It felt it was a like a good way of signaling in a new chapter of my life. 

“Sunday Candy,” Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment - “Sunday Candy” was my first introduction to Chance the Rapper when I was living in Chicago. I’ll always associate this song and his music with the three years I spent out there. 

Rowena Lindsay

“Mr. Tambourine Man” by Bob Dylan – There was a lot of Dylan played at my house growing up. “Mr. Tambourine Man” has always been one of my favorites and I have found myself connecting with different lyrics during different phases of my life.

“History Eraser” by Courtney Barnett – I knew I had found a new favorite artist about 30 seconds into listening to the album “A Sea of Split Peas” for the first time. Her witty and melancholy lyrics got me through the more grueling parts of college.

ABBA, Wendy Magee, music, music therapy, iPod

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